The Singing Martyr from Latvia

"For a few minutes he could still be heard singing... then silence fell."

Pastor Schweitzer was a Lutheran minister, who as a young man, had moved from Germany to Latvia. After World War I when Russia annexed Latvia, Pastor Schweitzer was amongst the first to be taken captive and ostracised by the Soviets, primarily because he was a German national.

Later, he was accused of being a German spy and was deported to Solovetiki, an island in the White Sea located between Archangel and Murmansk. The concentration camp there was known as "The prison without a hope on Earth," and some of the guards, who had served in the Red Army, were thieves and criminals themselves - a bunch of cut-throats under the command of honourable officers. Among the prison inmates were found: teachers, professionals, workers, intellectuals and the "religious".

After the usual "cultural and educational lessons" which were obligatory for all captives, Pastor Schweitzer took every opportunity to bear witness for Christ by word and with singing. In his documentary, "God's secret armies", J. Johnston recorded the invincible courage and the infectious joy of Pastor Schweitzer: "The guards, as well as both the convicts and criminals, greatly feared the old pastor whose spirit could not be broken by caning, hard labour, hunger, or torture. Even though well over 60 years of age, Pastor Schweitzer was given the spine-breaking work of drawing a loaded sledge into the woods and back again. With a hymn on his lips he went to work. When the guards beat him with whips or rifle butts, the old godly man looked at them and muttered, "God forgive you."

After the quarter-of-an-hour break for the usual meal of watery corn soup, hot water and a crust of bread, Pastor Schweitzer erected a rough cross of wood and led his fellow-sufferers into prayer and singing. Often nobody dared to meet with him and the old man absolved his divine service alone. Eventually he was condemned to solitary confinement and locked up in the isolation cells 900 metres from the prisoners' hut. Nevertheless, day and night, the other captives heard his voice from the cell, singing praises to the Lord.

It was a terribly cold night in January 1947 when Lublinski, the new commander, released him with the warning to stop this unbearable singing. In the middle of the night Pastor Schweitzer quietly returned to the darkness of the cold huts and sat on his plank bed. Weaker then ever before, with tormenting tubercular coughing, he addressed the hut full of men: "Brothers, would you like to sing with me? I could not be with you on Christmas Eve." From all corners of the dark hut voices united in holy singing; above them all the voice of Pastor Schweitzer. He lifted their spirits and brought their thoughts back to the days when they were still men (human beings).

Lublinski burst into the room. The singing stopped. He grabbed the old man and beat him hysterically about his mouth, nose and eyes with his pistol grip.

He could wrench neither a cry nor a whimper from Pastor Schweitzer.

"I will teach you. I will break you. I will show you sanctions you have never dreamed of," Lublinski shouted.

Four criminal guards dragged the old man away. For a few minutes he could still be heard singing... then silence fell.

In the morning when the captives were led outside, they saw a block of ice in the middle of the courtyard. During the Arctic night, Lublinski had sprinkled Pastor Schweitzer with water.

Frozen to a human statue, the body of Pastor Schweitzer lay on the courtyard in the posture of martyrdom - his outstretched arms forming a cross.

The singing saint left his frozen temple of loam and he is still singing!

Translated from the German: 'Der singende Märtyrer von Latvien'

Source: ‘Redemption Tidings (The Flame)'